PO: Who are Urbanbees?
FB: We are Urbanbees: a collective with no specific geographic base, originally from Italy, Iran and Mexico, currently in Italy, Switzerland and Canada. We met in 2007 while doing a Master of Urban Design at Domus Academy in Milan and taking advantage of our different backgrounds and cultures, we have worked together since we met.
We are interested in public space, urbanity, architecture and design process. Working together for us is first of all a very pleasing excuse to keep the contact with each other and to continue the dialogue of our interests.
PO: Why did you decide to participate in the Jardins de Metis competition?
FB: The decision to take part in the Jardins de Metis competition was very immediate over Matteo’s proposal. The theme of the 2011 edition, “Secret Garden” was intriguing and we’ve always been interested in the festival’s approach to landscape design as a hybrid medium between installation art, architecture and landscape design.
We started exchanging ideas on “what is for us a secret garden”. It turned out to be such an interesting topic to elaborate on that we finally came to a consensus that secret garden is merely in our imagination and it’s a personal space. We decided to leave it to the public to build their own secret garden. As an image, we had a white paper where people would draw their secret places.
At the same time the white page reminded us of the winter landscape. The image of the first snowfall that announces the onset of winter, the snow covers the ground and between the white quilt and the green bed, the tracks that are left (objects, footprints, fragrances and even sounds) are trapped and remain hidden for the entire winter until the snow melts. These temporary fossils, almost invisible to the eye, create a hidden garden. It is up to us to image what is underneath.
PO: Please describe the construction process.
FB: To emulate that particular winter landscape with a natural material we chose salt, which is actually used in winter as well. That’s how fleur de sel was born.
The salt comes from a mine in Ontario and is totally natural (thanks to Windsor Company for their sponsorship). The challenge then was to protect the soil from salt. Layers of PVC and geotextile create an impermeable surface and guide the rain water with a 2% slope all over the site towards the center where there is a water container. Water will be pumped out after each rain or whenever necessary. There is also a layer of gravel underneath salt to facilitate the drainage.
The evolution of the garden through the season is another aspect of it for us. The idea is to recycle the salt at the end of the season for snow melting purposes.
Walking, snowshoeing or skiing up my driveway during Winter for the past thirty years, I have a deep appreciation of how snow changes ones perception of the land. I have never thought of it as a “hidden garden.” Although I am unlikely to experience the Fleur de Sel garden, I may feel very differently about the trek up my lane in 2012.